Americas

Fewer Americans Favor Cutting Back Immigration

Public as likely to favor status quo as to favor decreased immigration

PRINCETON, NJ -- A new Gallup Poll finds 39% of Americans in favor of reductions in immigration, down from 45% a year ago. Currently, the public is just as likely to favor maintaining the status quo on immigration as it is to favor a decrease. Only a relatively small minority of 18% of Americans believe immigration levels should be increased.

These results are based on Gallup's annual Minority Rights and Relations survey, conducted June 5-July 6 of this year, and consisting of interviews with more than 1,900 adults nationwide, including large samples of U.S. blacks and Hispanics. The poll sample is weighted to be representative of the entire U.S. adult population.

During much of this decade, a plurality if not a majority of Americans have favored cutbacks in immigration, reaching as high as 58% shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But the current percentage in favor of reduced immigration levels is within a percentage point of the lowest Gallup has measured in the last 20 years or so (a 38% reading in 2000; the all-time low was 33% way back in 1965). In 2006, 39% also favored decreased immigration.

The post-9/11 reading was not the historical high point in calls for reduced immigration -- in the mid-1990s, roughly two in three Americans wanted to see less immigration during a backlash against immigrants symbolized by California's Proposition 187, which denied government benefits to illegal immigrants.

The apparent softening on immigration is also evident in the fact that 64% of Americans now say immigration is a good thing for the country today, up from 60% last year, and the second highest reading in the now eight-year history of the Minority Rights and Relations survey.

One reason anti-immigration opinion has diminished somewhat may be that immigration has receded as an issue this year as Americans have focused on the struggling economy and record-high gas prices. In a June Gallup Poll, just 4% named immigration as the most important problem facing the country, down from 11% at the beginning of the year. Also, in June, just 27% of Americans said illegal immigration would be an extremely important issue to their vote for president this year, ranking it dead last of eight issues tested.

President Bush and Congress failed in their attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform last year, and the issue has been put on the shelf during this presidential election year.

Immigration and the Economy

The poll finds that Americans have mixed views on some of the precise effects of immigration on the economy. On the one hand, by a 2-to-1 margin, the public says immigrants cost taxpayers too much by using government services as opposed to becoming productive citizens who pay their fair share of taxes. Those views are essentially unchanged from 2006.

But, on the other hand, Americans by an even wider margin see some economic benefit from the standpoint that illegal immigrants tend to take low-paying jobs that Americans don't want (79%) as opposed to taking away jobs that would otherwise go to Americans (15%). Again, these sentiments have not changed materially since 2006.

Immigration Attitudes by Subgroup

Of the major U.S. racial and ethnic groups, Hispanics tend to be the most supportive of immigration. This is not surprising given that nearly half of the Hispanics in the poll are themselves U.S. immigrants. Only 28% of Hispanics favor decreased immigration, compared with 39% of blacks and 42% of whites.

Additionally, 70% of Hispanics say immigration is good for the country today, compared with 62% of whites and 57% of blacks.

Hispanics also break with most other Americans in rejecting the notion that illegal immigrants are a drain on taxpayer resources. Whereas solid majorities of blacks (62%) and whites (71%) believe that illegal immigrants cost taxpayers too much money, only 30% of Hispanics agree. Nearly two in three Hispanics hold the view that illegal immigrants become productive citizens who pay their fair share of taxes.

As expected, there are political differences in attitudes toward immigration, but these tend to be stronger according to one's ideological inclination than by political party affiliation. A majority of self-identified conservatives believe immigration levels should be reduced, but only 30% of liberals agree. Close to half of liberals favor keeping the status quo.

Liberals are much more likely than conservatives to say immigration has been good for the country, and to believe that immigrants eventually become productive citizens and pay their fair share of taxes.

Implications

As the illegal immigration issue has faded from the public consciousness, Americans have become somewhat less likely to take anti-immigration stances. It is unclear at this point whether that means the public is coming to terms with the immigration issue and the complexities in dealing with illegal immigrants living in the United States, or whether the public might become somewhat less tolerant of it should the public's elected leaders take up the issue again.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,935 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 5-July 6, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 702 non-Hispanic whites, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 608 non-Hispanic blacks, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 502 Hispanics, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points (120 of the 502 interviews with Hispanics were conducted in Spanish).

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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